A recent report revealed that the more educated a person is, the more likely he or she is to buy store brand products, a surefire ego boost to all us penny-savers out there. But while smart consumers may be more willing to buy generic, it takes an even smarter consumer to know that when it comes to brand name vs. generic, a person always has to compare.

Sure, a generic product may cost less, but will it achieve the purpose a brand name product will?

Take for instance, Abreva, the first over-the-counter cold sore treatment cream. Unfortunately about 40 percent of all Americans exhibit cold sores. Given the common (but largely false) association with cold sores and sexually transmitted diseases, people with cold sores will often want immediate and quick healing. The over-the-counter product available at 10pm at a CVS or Duane Reade trumps waiting for a doctor’s prescriptionmaking Abreva, and thus its generic counterpart, very popular. 

The generic brand of Abreva sits rights next to the signature brand; the packaging and tube nearly identical to one another. But these products are not the same. Abreva’s main ingredient is Docosanolan antiviral agent used to inhibit the growth of a pathogen or virus. It has been clinically proven to reduce the amount of time a person experiences a cold sore (it does so by blocking the virus that spreads cold sores, herpes simplex, from infecting healthy skin cells.) 

The generic brand’s main ingredient is Benzalkonium Chloride. Benzalkonium Chloride is most commonly used as a preservative in eye, ear and nasal products or an antiseptic in household cleaners for floors or in hand sanitizer. There is no clinical research available that supports its ability to prevent or fight cold sores. In fact, there is research that points to negative effects of using the ingredient as a preservative in eye drops. Medscape, an online forum for health professionals, actually encourages readers not to use  products with it. 

But the generic product has another ingredient listed right after the first. Perhaps this one will fill the deficit? Not so fast. The generic product’s second ingredient is Camphor, which reduces redness and itching, the symptoms of a cold sore. It also has not been proven to fight actual cold sores. When it comes to medicines, always compare the active ingredients to the brand name product. 

The same holds true for most health-related products. Take baby diapers for example, a not-so-mall business that is projected to reach 52.2 billion dollars global by 2017. While moms or dads may be tempted to buy the generic baby diaper thinking, “Eh, it’s all the same right?” do your research first.

Photo courtesy of ThinkPanama

A lot of generic diapers aren’t fitted properly and can be either too big, square or ill-fitting for a baby, many online reviews attest. Perhaps generic diaper makers will catch on and improve their products, but until then, avoid the total mess and go with a brand you are confident with. Buy a set of generic diapers to try out when you’re not on-the-go, but have a brand name backup just incase. 

Consumers should be especially diligent in comparing brand name products with their generic products when they will be ingesting them. With some food items, like soda or chipsit makes sense to buy generic. Unless you’re specific about how your Orange Soda or tortilla chips should taste, brand x should suffice. 

But when it comes to your meals, consumers should be sure check the labels. Despite the savings of the generic food, the quality of nutrients may not measure up. Take for example Walmart’s Great Value Chicken Nuggets vs. Banquet’s Chicken Nuggets.

Walmart’s Chicken Nuggets have significantly higher levels of sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol compared to the comparable brand name Banquet’s Chicken Nuggets. The generic chicken nuggets have 250 more mg of Sodium, 3 more grams of fat, and 20 more mg of cholesterol than Banquet’s. People have also long argued that products like condiments and marinara sauce aren’t good in generic form.

In short, a smart consumer doesn’t follow the brand name parade, but an even smarter consumer won’t jump on the generic bandwagon either. The smartest consumer compares.


[Photos courtesy of Epsos.de and ThinkPanama]